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by Jerome Weeks 24 Dec 2007

Chicago and Sweeney Todd would seem to have removed the stigma from adapting stage musicals to the screen (I’m not counting Moulin Rouge in this development because although it influenced how musicals are presented on film, it was an original movie musical). So I am offering suggestions for which great musicals need to be re-mastered […]

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The MusicalChicago and Sweeney Todd would seem to have removed the stigma from adapting stage musicals to the screen (I’m not counting Moulin Rouge in this development because although it influenced how musicals are presented on film, it was an original movie musical). So I am offering suggestions for which great musicals need to be re-mastered next. I do not think most “classic” musicals (pre-1966) would work. All three of these shows (including Moulin Rouge) are very dark, rather cynical at times, more appropriate for our age, don’t you think? Recall how many people felt Chicago struck a popular chord now, only because it was post-O.J. Simpson trial.

I don’t buy that entirely (I loved the show when it first came out), but still, about the only pre-1966 musical comedies that could fit today would be Pal Joey and maybe a Gershwin or Porter or two, provided that, like Crazy for You, the shows were re-worked, particularly the book material. But you never know: Richard Hamburger’s revival of South Pacific at the Dallas Theater Center made me appreciate that show in very contemporary terms.

And, in fact, one of my suggestions is a great, pre-’60s musical — Guys and Dolls — and the other is A Little Night Music. One reason they’re crying out to be re-made is that they already were adapted — both badly.

A Little Night Music is Stephen Sondheim’s other masterpiece, but the 1978 film version is pretty leaden (it suffered from under-funding). It is a gorgeous musical, however — when done well — and given Sondheim’s new Hollywood cred, maybe Sweeney could get Night Music re-done the way it should be.

Similarly, 1955’s Guys and Dolls never took off, partly because of the perverse casting-against-type of the leads, with Frank Sinatra playing put-upon Nathan Detroit and Marlon Brando playing man-about-town Sky Masterson. Also, Brando’s non-singing voice wouldn’t have helped in either role. But given the tremendous success of the 1992 Broadway revival with Nathan Lane, the possibilities for such a re-working are evident, and Hollywood could easily see the show as mining the same vein as Chicago.

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